Originally published on October 10 2013
Ancient Greek Philosophers (on the STOA). A PAINTING BY RAPHAEL that is held in the Vatican
APPARENTLY, EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN🏛
THIS IS ESPECIALLY SO when it comes to what some philosophers had to teach us from more than 2,000 years ago.
I refer particularly to the famous Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, the Roman playwright Seneca and the Greek philosophers Epictetus and Zeno – THE STOICS. I am assured that they have been discovered during COVID lockdowns by the younger generation with new interpretive books being published. Hooray, I say!
STOIC PHILOSOPHY. WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT?. I expect that to most folk it is unknown. I must have been fortunate then to be exposed to THE STOICS when I did a short course in philosophy at high school. I’ve been inspired and comforted ever since by what I learned because from that time onwards I have turned to their teachings over and over again to help me through difficult times. None more so than through the illness and death of my husband in 2020 after 54 years together.
I WAS RECENTLY RE-READING Aurelius’s Meditations – which sparked this current conversations with my 17 and 19 year old granddaughters – they finally thought I was trendy?.
NOTE: These writings, by this most famous of Roman Emperors, were never supposed to be published – the were his daily diary jottings and would more aptly be titled REFLECTIONS ON HOW TO LIVE A GOOD LIFE.
From my experience STOIC PHILOSOPHY is largely misunderstood – part of that, I believe, is the injustice that is given to the word STOIC – because, to the average person, this dynamic, practical model for living has become misinterpreted as emotionless – and nothing could be further from the truth. It’s the 19 year olds’ birthday tomorrow and I have bought a book for her – THE DAILY STOIC by Ryan Holiday – 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living. I highly recommend it for anyone embarking on their journey into Stoic Philosophy.
NOTE: THE WORD STOIC comes from the Greek word for porch -STOA- a place where people gathered to discuss things or listen to teachers.
BEING YOURSELF – the art of being happy in your own skin.STOIC PHILOSOPHY LESSON ONE. ACCEPT THOSE THINGS WE CANNOT CHANGE AND CHANGE THE THINGS WE CAN.
I RECENTLY WENT TO A SHOW IN BYRON BAY WITH RUBY WAX as I was given a free ticket – (in case you are wondering?) – the New York comedian and writer who lives in London. She was talking about her new book ‘Sane New World’ – an account of her experiences of being born into a dysfunctional family, being diagnosed with depression after the birth of her third child, having lived with it for most of her life, and how she learned to deal with it. She said she dealt with it by allowing herself to be diagnosed and then trying to understand it – she has just completed a course at Oxford University where she studied neural plasticity – how the brain works and suggests we can rewire it to help us function in a better way – it’s apparently not all in our DNA .
“A man’s as miserable as he thinks he is.” Seneca
SHE PREFACED HER TALK, in the usual way around here, by having a dig at the Byron Bay audience – apparently we are all hippy-trippy, crystal gazing space cadets – amongst other things. She then proceeded to talk about how she turned her life around by learning about mindfulness – being in the moment and about how we should: realize that the acquisition of wealth and stuff won’t give us peace and contentment, to stop and actually listen to our children, not try to do twenty things at once and be aware of the here and now etc. etc. It seemed to me that most of the audience were thinking the same as me
“No wonder you’re depressed if you’ve only just worked that out” Why did she think we have chosen to be HERE rather than THERE? MINDFULNESS is core Stoic Philosophy – it is not an enlightened invention of visiting ‘wanna be’ life coaches.
“For many men, the acquisition of wealth does not end their troubles, it only changes them”. Seneca
WE ALL HAVE DIFFICULT TIMES IN OUR LIFE and there is not always a hand reaching out to stop us stumbling or pick us up when we fall, so we really have to learn ways of helping ourselves – for me that’s engaging with nature, being active (having a swim!) and finding the pleasure in small things, because sometimes I could easily just pull the covers over my head and try to blot out the difficult bits. It’s at times like that I go back to Seneca – the Roman philosopher who lived over 2,000 years ago during the reign of Nero, who ultimately ended up forcing Seneca to take his own life when he fell out of favour. (And we think our leaders can be self-serving, greedy nincompoops!).
APART FROM MY COURSE IN PHILOSOPHY AT SCHOOL, I really got to know more about Seneca from the marvelous series ‘The Consolations of Philosophy’, by modern-day British philosopher Alain de Botton. Seneca’s main message is that we are in charge of our own happiness and if the way we are running our life is making us unhappy – then change it. Be brave – it will make you more resilient.
“There is no person so severely punished, as those who subject themselves to the whip of their own remorse.” Seneca
JUST A LITTLE STORY: When I was growing up my mother was constantly on the latest fad diet – grapefruit, Pritikin, Weight Watchers, liquid dinners in a can, pills etc. etc. The garage was also full of discarded diet aids – a belted fat wobbler that you strapped around you, turned on and then fell in a heap of laughter (that burnt up a few calories – the fat wobbler did nothing!), special mats and rolling ‘things’ for doing stomach crunches, a medicine ball that nearly knocked her teeth out and the piece de la resistance ‘the scuba suit’ – as my father dubbed it. This was a flesh-coloured, rubber corset with little holes all over it that my brother and I had to help her get zipped into – don’t ask!. This was supposed to make her sweat, while running around the house with the vacuum cleaner, and bingo the pounds would drop off. Of course, she didn’t lose an ounce. The unzipping of this corset of torture was at least fun to watch – she looked like she was in the final stages of some fatal disease; bright pink and sweaty with little pimples all over her where her flesh had been forced through the rubber holes!
Mum thought there there was a magic answer to her displeasure with the way she looked. What she didn’t want to do was either ACCEPT IT or MAKE CHANGES that would require some real self discipline. A concept that that seems to have gone out of fashion in this modern world where we think that self gratifications comes without costs?
STOICISM TEACHES THE DEVELOPMENT OF SELF-CONTROL AND FORTITUDE AS A MEANS OF OVERCOMING DESTRUCTIVE EMOTIONS.